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What Is Salt Lake City Known For?

The young, vibrant, and dynamic state capital of Utah, Salt Lake City, has many religious, historical, and natural associations. Located in the western part of the country, it has a burgeoning population from various cultures. You may wonder what makes Salt Lake City famous.

Salt Lake City is known for its rich religious culture reflected in architecture, tourist sites, and paleontological wonders. It’s home to the NBA team, Utah Jazz, and hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics thanks to its world-famous ski slopes.

This article will cover the cultural, historical, and other aspects that make Salt Lake City an iconic place.

a photo of Salt Lake City with the surrounding mountains in the background

Notable History Salt Lake City if Known For

Salt Lake City is the state capital of Utah, located in the north-central region of the state. It was home to the native American tribes of Shoshone, Paiute, and Weber Ute for hundreds of years. But the modern city, founded in 1847, went by the name of Great Salt Lake City until 1868. A group of Mormons founded the city to escape religious persecution and planned to build it as the city of Zion.

What made the city thrive was Mormon immigrants that came to the “New Jerusalem” from the East and Europe. The California Gold Rush in 1849 also made the city grow. It was once called “The Crossroads of the West” because of the first transcontinental railroad.

When they founded the city, the Mormons built the first large-scale irrigation system in the west. They made the arid Salt Lake Valley an arable land to farm in, giving the Mormon population the chance to grow and thrive.

Now, the city boasts a culturally diverse community, which is more liberal compared to other cities in Utah. It’s home to many higher education institutions, most importantly, the state’s flagship, the University of Utah.

It also has a wide variety of mines, including gold, platinum, selenium, lead, copper, zinc, and different salts taken from the lake.

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Salt Lake City is Known for its Mormon Heritage

Since the early settlers and founders of the city were Mormons, it’s not surprising to see Mormon influence all over the city. They even determined the city’s layout by organizing the streets based on a numbered grid system centered around Temple Square.

It’s the headquarters of the Mormon Church, and around 50% of the population is Mormon. Although Salt Lake City is more religiously diverse than other cities in Utah, it’s still considered a Mormon city where many city officials and legislators are active Mormons.

The Mormon culture is present all over the city, so don’t be surprised to find the city closed on Sundays. However, the city’s nickname is “a liberal bubble within a conservative state,” showing its less strict Mormon ties resulting from mingling with the non-Mormon culture.

But the Mormon culture isn’t the only thing that comes to mind when you think of Salt Lake City. 

Nature

With its rich nature, surrounded by several mountain ranges, the city has a lot to offer. It lies in an ancient mountain valley that was once the ancient Lake Bonneville, stretching from Utah to Nevada and Idaho.

 

Salt Lake City is Known for it’s surrounding Ski Resorts

The city is a popular skiing destination with many ski resorts, including Park City, Solitude, Alta, and Snowbird. The scenic and twisty ski slopes are in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains, which stretch from east to north. Every year, skiers flock to the resorts with wide assortments of boarding and après-ski facilities.

Because of these resorts, and perhaps being home to the greatest snow on earth, Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, leading to even more popularity of the ski slopes and winter activities. After the tournaments, the Olympic Park built for the events remained a popular ski training spot for athletes who want to participate in the Olympics and other amateur skiers.

Another world-famous attraction related to the ski slopes is the Olympic Oval, featuring the “Fastest Ice on Earth.” It earned this title thanks to eight speed-skating world records and 10 Olympic records during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

 

The Great Salt Lake

The city gets its name from the Great Salt Lake, the only remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville. SLC lies on the lake’s southeast and east sides, with the Wasatch Mountains on the other side of the city. In addition to the lake, there are many streams and three rivers called the Jordan, Bear, and Weber.

Also called America’s Dead Sea, the lake has high salinity levels and is home to some marine species. It’s so salty that you won’t sink if you fall into the lake. You’ll simply float without effort.

Another unique feature of the lake is the color differences between the various parts of the lake due to different salinity levels. For example, the northwest part of the lake, called Gunnison Bay, is more saline because no streams feed it. Due to higher salt levels, the algae types growing in this part are different from other parts.

There’s also a railroad line running across the lake, dividing the lake into three parts. The lake features Spiral Jetty, an artificial coil made of black basalt rocks by Robert Smithson. This piece of art is 1,500 ft (457.2 m) long, winding counterclockwise from the shore into the water. Since it’s only visible when water is down, it was under the water for 30 years after its construction in 1970. It has been visible since 2002 because water levels sank due to drought.

National Parks

There are more than 20 national parks near Salt Lake City, within 30 minutes to a few hours’ drive. That’s another unique feature making SLC one of the greatest gateways to scenic and spectacular outdoor attractions.

 

Wasatch-Cache National Forest

The nearest national park is the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, a 30-minutes drive from Salt Lake City. The park is famous for its peculiar Mirror Lake Highway, one of the highest Utah roads, reaching over 10,000 ft (3,048 m) high in some places.

It also features about 1,000 to 2,000 ponds and small lakes lying between the basins and high peaks. Lots of major and small rivers run through the park, mounting to 400 mi (643.74 km). They include the Bear River, Provo River, Weber River, and Blacks Fork River, to name a few.

Dating back to ancient times, the area has many paleontological sites with fossils of different types of dinosaurs.

 

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

This national monument is within 45 minutes drive from SLC in the Wasatch Range, and it’s famous for its colorful cave formations and mineral deposits. Three caves, namely Hansen Cave, Middle Cave, and Timpanogos Cave, are connected through human-made trails and require a short 1.5 mi (2.41 km) hike to get to. 

The hollow, twisting straws of calcite, called helictites, are the most spectacular among the many colorful formations. The limestone formations are 340 million years old, making it a one-of-a-kind historical and geological attraction.

 

Dinosaur National Monument

The Dinosaur National Monument is located in the two states of Colorado and Utah, covering 210,000 acres (84,983.98 hectares) of land. Depending on the state, it has different features. The part in Utah features dinosaur fossils, while the Colorado section boasts scenic canyons and rivers. It’s a 3-hour drive from SLC and quite remote, but totally worth the visit due to the ancient dinosaur fossils.

Other national parks and monuments near Salt Lake City include Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Golden Spike National Historic Site, and Arches National Park, to name a few.

 

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Art and Culture Salt Lake City is Known For

The magical nature and outdoor scenery surrounding Salt Lake City may seem enough to make it a unique place. But the thriving urban center beating in the heart of the city is nothing short of a world-renowned attraction.

 

Museums

Salt Lake City is home to many types of museums, from pioneer history to science, art, and dinosaurs.

The Church History Museum is near Temple Square, under the operation of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) Church. It features collections of artifacts, photographs, documents, and many other items belonging to the history of the church.

The Natural History Museum is on the University of Utah Campus and has paleontology collections from the surrounding natural places on exhibit. Other collections are related to cultural, biological, and geological features to provide information to scientists from around the world.

Other museums in the city are the Museum of Fine Arts, Discovery Gateway, and Pioneer Memorial Museum

Festivals

Salt Lake City is home to a wide range of festivals throughout the year, each celebrating the diverse communities within the valley with its rich culture. These festivals cover themes from food, music, and dance, to culture, religion, and film.

 

Sundance Festival

For movie-goers, Salt Lake City is reminiscent of one of the most important festivals: The Sundance Film Festival, taking place every January at the Sundance Resort in Park City. As the largest festival of independent films, it began in August 1978 to showcase the filmmaking capacities of Utah and celebrate American movies.

 

Pride Festival

The Utah Pride Festival occurs in SLC’s Pride Center every June to celebrate Utah’s diverse LGBTQ community. It’s Utah’s largest Pride parade, only second to the Days of ’47 Parade. The first festival was held in 1977, with the first parade in Utah taking place in 1990. It also involves other cultural activities such as art expos, competitions, and film festivals.

Other notable events in the city include the Utah Arts Festival, The Dark Arts Festival, The Utah Arts Alliance Festival, the Jewish Arts Festival, the Craft Lake City DIY Festival, and many more.

 

Sports

Salt Lake City has been home to the NBA team, Utah Jazz, since 1979. It began as a franchise in New Orleans in 1974 but moved to Utah due to financial problems. It’s the only team in the history of the NBA to have completed a season with less than 60 lost games.

Tourist Attractions Salt Lake City is Known For

As the Church of Jesus Christ stronghold, Salt Lake City is known for its Mormon heritage on display in every corner of the city. The Temple Square is the heart of the city with multiple historical places such as Salt Lake Tabernacle, the center of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Other places at the Temple square are the LDS Conference Center, the Family History Library, and the Eagle Gate Monument.

 

Temple Square

As a holy place for Mormons, Temple Square lies in the city’s center, surrounded by the Mormon Temple, Temple Annex, the Mormon Tabernacle, and the Assembly Hall. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1964 to celebrate the Mormons’ role in the development of Utah.

The 28-story office building of the LDS Church also lies on the eastern side of the square, to make it the headquarters of the church. Apart from being a religious monument, the Temple Square is Utah’s most popular tourist attraction, with up to five million visitors a year.

 

Mormon Temple

The Mormon Temple is another iconic landmark. It’s the largest temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, constructed in 1893. As a sacred place only open to Mormons, non-Mormons need a temple recommendation to enter. 

That’s why non-Mormons can only see what the inside of the temple looks like through photos and models made of the interior space—fortunately, there are thousands of detailed pictures to see. The temple is under renovation starting from 2020 until 2024.

 

State Capitol

Another iconic building is the Utah State Capitol on Capitol Hill, housing the State’s Senate, House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. Constructed between 1912 and 1916, the State Capitol is famous for its classical architecture similar to Greece’s Parthenon. It has five floors, including the basement, decorated with sculptures and paintings portraying the history and heritage of Salt Lake City and Utah.

 

Mormon Tabernacle

Another monument on the Temple Square in Salt Lake Tabernacle, constructed from 1863 to 1875. It was a meeting center for the LDS Church and to house the church’s general conference. Although the conferences are held in the LDS Conference Center now, it houses extra crowds during these conferences. 

With its iconic oval shape, it was an architectural wonder when it was built. Its massive interior can seat more than 6,500 people and features fine acoustics that makes it perfect for performances and recitals.

Final Thoughts

Founded on the basin of an ancient lake, Salt Lake City is famous for its many historical, natural, cultural, and religious aspects.

The Mormon background of the city has influenced its architecture, with many iconic buildings. Perhaps the most prominent figure in the city is the Church of Jesus Christ stronghold.

But that’s not all there is in the city. The museums, national parks and monuments, festivals, and sports franchises are all other things that Salt Lake City is famous for.

 

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